The Ministry of Defence is considering its options after an attempt to recruit an independent race adviser to help it become a more “inclusive and diverse organisation” failed to find any suitable candidates.
The MoD had offered up to £10,000 for a consultant with “deep experience and proven capability in driving racial diversity through large, complex organisations” to work with the ministry’s race champion, Sherin Aminossehe, on “developing the scope of work that will support advancement of MoD's position on race”.
Work was set to last nearly a year, beginning in March, according to contract documents.
The post is part of the department’s commitment to becoming an “inclusive and diverse organisation, ensuring fairness, justice and equality for all”, a spokesperson said.
But the department said its Race Equity Programme is now “scoping options for a race adviser” after a tender that ran for just over two weeks in February failed to attract any suitable offers.
‘There are other areas where we can learn from others’
The MoD had sought to bring in an external consultant after recognising racial diversity was one area where it needed to “get better at sharing and being transparent about our challenges, but also learning from others”, MoD diversity and inclusion director Samantha des Forges said.
In an interview for CSW’s upcoming April edition, des Forges said: “There are [areas of D&I] where we now are arguably starting to lead, but there are other areas where we can learn from others and we don't want that to be confined to a small number. We want to open that up. So hence going out to industry as well.”
“We are open to learning from leading practice from other folk and I think this was one of the areas where there was just an opportunity to reach out,” she added.
Speaking to CSW last year, Aminossehe said the MoD had made significant strides on diversity and creating a more inclusive culture in recent years. However, the race champion said the department had a “certain reputation” that “would probably make certain groups or communities more hesitant in terms of joining defence” and would take time to change.
In one highly-publicised incident in 2020, The Times reported that senior management had taken disciplinary action after “deeply offensive” comments were made on an all-staff Zoom call that addressed – among other things – the department’s zero-tolerance policy on discrimination.
Submissions to an anonymous Q&A included comments “conflating ‘indigenous’ with white Britons [and] claims that any focus on diversity was at odds with fairness”, according to a memo sent to staff by then-permanent secretary Sir Stephen Lovegrove after the call.
The comments were “not what we expect of people in defence, in any shape or form”, Aminossehe told CSW.
The race champion – who is also the MoD’s director of infrastructure – said a small minority of staff in the department may feel “their positions might be threatened if we have a more diverse community” – something she described as “very worrying and upsetting and sad”.
In the summer 2021 interview, Aminossehe said the department’s leadership believed that “only by continuing that dialogue and not shying away from it can you actually change those attitudes”.
Aminossehe also said she hoped that having more diverse role models would help to change those perceptions. She said the department was keen to communicate that its role was “not about dropping bombs on a country – it’s about defence, it’s about security, it’s about making the United Kingdom a better place”, and that it had a number of outreach activities, including some in schools, to try and attract a more diverse workforce.
An MoD spokesperson said: “Defence is committed to building an inclusive and diverse organisation, ensuring fairness, justice and equality for all, and we are scoping options for a race adviser.”